No. 22: “The Glamour Girls,” a screenplay
Context at the end of this synopsis.
Other entries in #33Stories at the Table of Contents. See you tomorrow!
My research for The Providence Journal series “A Nearly Perfect Summer,” which became the documentary “Behind the Hedgerow,” brought me deeply into the story of Eleanor Young, a close friend and fellow debutante of Eileen Slocum in the pre-war 1930s and early ‘40s.
|Eleanor Young, in her late teens.|
To my knowledge, no one had ever written the story of Eleanor Young, nicknamed “Cookie.” I have included a more detailed synopsis in the context section below, but here’s the quick summary taken from the Journal series: “With her long black hair, dark eyes, and creamy skin, Cookie was stunning truly the most alluring Glamour Girl of all. Except for the color of her hair, she brings to mind the early Marilyn Monroe.”
Eleanor was unlucky in love, and her marriage at an early age to a drunk and womanizer, "Bunty" Bacon, ended in divorce after Eleanor miscarried their child.
|Eleanor and "Bunty" Bacon.|
|Eleanor and Nicky Embiricos.|
From the series: “Eleanor and her dog were thrown from the plane. Lifeguards pulled Nicky from the wreckage; they detected a faint pulse, but he died there on the beach. Unconscious but breathing, Eleanor died an hour later at South County Hospital of a fractured skull, broken bones, and multiple internal injuries. The body of her dog was later found washed up on shore.”
An only child, Eleanors death devastated her parents, the millionaire Robert R. and Anita O’Keeffe Young. Robert never recovered: prone to depression all his life, he sat down in the billiards room of his vast Palm Beach estate on the morning of Jan. 25, 1958, put the tip of a double-barrel shotgun in his mouth, and pulled both triggers. Anita died of natural causes in 1985 at the age of 93, leaving an estate that included her $25-million, 35,000-square-foot Palm Beach residence. Eleanor, Robert and Anita lie together in a cemetery near Newport, in an underground reinforced-concrete crypt that Robert bought to shield his daughter from the elements. I ended “A Nearly Perfect Summer” with a visit, see below...
And in one of those strange ironies life delivers now and again, I am director of the Story in the Public Square program and visiting fellow at Salve Regina University’s Pell Center, which is housed in the Young Building, named for Anita and Robert, Salve benefactors.
ANYWAY, I thought that Eleanor and The Glamour Girls could be the basis for a movie, provided a bit of poetic license was employed to get beneath the surface into what Eleanor was really all about. But I was preoccupied with too many other projects, and decided to see if I could find a screenwriting collaborator – and I did, through a recommendation by a professor at the University of California Riverside’s Department of Theatre, Film and Digital Production.
He recommended a recent graduate, Jessi Sundell Cramer, who lived then in Wyoming. Jessi graciously worked with me for many months, doing most of the heavy lifting, in writing “The Glamour Girls” screenplay. Never produced, alas – do you detect a common thread here? – yes, the heartbreak of Hollywood – but it has stood the test of time, methinks.
Herewith, an excerpt:
INT. ELEANOR’S BEDROOM - NIGHT
Eleanor’s bedroom is a luxurious affair, mounds of pillows on the bed and ornate drapes on the windows. Eleanor is curled in an overstuffed chair reading. A KNOCK on the door, Eleanor doesn’t look up.
It’s your mother.
Eleanor lays her book aside as the door opens and Anita and Robert come in. Anita sits on the bed, moving some of the pillows aside. Robert remains standing.
Nothing. Your father and I have been talking about your future.
Because you’re obviously not interested in it
(to Robert) Robert. (to Eleanor) We’re sending you to Paris.
Jane, Aeriel and Boop are going as well.
Eleanor jumps up and hugs her father, who looks startled then hugs her back.
This isn’t a lark, Eleanor.
Eleanor sits down beside her mother, still excited.
You can’t just go out dancing all the time. There are museums and libraries and art galleries and all kinds of cultural--
--Sure we’ll go to museums and all that.
You’ll be meeting young men. Keep an eye out for prospects.
Eleanor SIGHS and looks to her mother for support. Anita nod in agreement with Robert and Eleanor SIGHS again.
Of course. I’ll keep an eye out.
EXT. YOUNG ESTATE - MORNING
The big black car is parked in front of the house. The CHAUFFEUR loads Eleanor’s collection of matching luggage into the trunk. He looks up as Eleanor comes out of the house in a matching traveling suit. She waves to the chauffeur and then hurries off around the house. Anita and Robert come out of the house and look around.
EXT. O’CALLAHAN COTTAGE - MORNING
Eleanor KNOCKS urgently on the door to the cottage, then KNOCKS again. Mid-knock, the door opens and Patrick comes out, holding the kite.
I hoped you’d be back.
I’ve come to say goodbye.
Patrick sets the kite down, leaning it against the house.
My parents are sending me to Europe.
And I’m back to school in two weeks. No more kites this summer.
A shy silence. Eleanor studies Patrick, who won’t look directly at her.
It’s the strangest thing, but I just couldn’t leave without telling you.
I hope you have a great time. Just be careful of those fancy Europeans.
Patrick smiles finally, and Eleanor LAUGHS.
And you be careful of those fancy college women.
Patrick LAUGHS and shakes Eleanor’s hand.
Send me a postcard.
EXT. SS NORMANDIE - AFTERNOON The deck of the luxurious French Line ocean liner SS Normandie. She cuts through the waves with stately presence as PASSENGERS stroll the decks.
INT. SS NORMANDIE - EVENING A first class cabin, elegant and over-done. Eleanor sits at a carved desk writing a postcard. The inscription reads: “Dear Patrick, What a ship! Unoriginal, I know but goodness what a ship!”
JANE (O.S.) Who’s Patrick?
From “A Nearly Perfect Summer”
I steer Boop toward Eleanor Young, fellow Glamour Girl.
"She was very beautiful," Boop says. "Long, long dark hair."
Like all of the Glamour Girls, Eleanor appealed to men and men desired her. And like her friends, Eleanor aspired not to college or career but to romance and marriage, so after a year in a Paris finishing school she returned to Newport for her debut, in 1936. The teenaged Eleanor dated, but failing to find the right match in Newport, New York, or Palm Beach, she embarked on a nearly year-long world cruise. And voilà in the summer of 1938, Eleanor met a wealthy Englishman in France.
"He has been so far a confirmed bachelor but I am hoping that he may weaken," Eleanor wrote to her parents. Less than three weeks later, the Englishman indeed weakened, and Eleanor accepted his proposal of marriage. Alas, he was insincere: Eleanor returned to America, planning her wedding, but the Englishman failed to join her.
"The so and so hasn't even written me," Eleanor wrote to her mother when almost a month passed without word.
But Eleanor did not lack for suitors. Twenty years old, she had become a society-page fixture regularly photographed outside Bailey's in Newport, and inside such ritzy establishments as New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Friends called her Cookie, a '30s' term for a vixen.
"She's a 'Glamour Girl' who is still surprised by it all, the only child of doting parents [whose] every wish is fulfilled in an Aladdin-like manner," one newspaper declared in November 1938. "Won't get her to take 'showers,' but when she bathes in the tub, Cleopatra in all her glory wasn't more luxurious . . . expects to be waited on and has a personal maid to attend to her comfort."
And this is when the no-good Robert Ogden Bacon Jr. arrived on scene.
Son of a steamship company executive who lived in New York's Plaza Hotel and rented a summer place in Newport, Bunty Bacon bore a passing resemblance to a later movie star, Christopher Reeve. But Bunty was more than tall, tanned, and ruggedly handsome he knew how to charm the ladies.
"Very, very sexy," Betty Boop tells me, "a very sexy and attractive man. And that's all he had."
Bunty was divorced from one of Eileen Slocum's friends when Cookie fell for him, shortly before Christmas of 1938.
Robert and Anita Young strongly disapproved of their only child's choice: Bunty had a young child from his first wife, another child he'd fathered with her had died under mysterious circumstances, and he drank to excess.
"Really bad news," says Boop.
But Eleanor wanted him.
After vacationing with Bunty in Jamaica, she secretly married him, on April 5, 1939, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Soon, she was pregnant.
One day while visiting Eileen Slocum, I ask her about Glamour Girl Eleanor Young, and Eleanor's husband, Bunty Bacon.
"The most awful man," Eileen says. "He had a lot of people fooled he was a Hector type, I can tell you, an American Hector type. He was a great big bronze fellow who used to play tennis every day."
Bunty eloped with Eleanor Young after divorcing Eileen Slocum's friend Agnes Pyne, who in turn soon married John R. "Jock" McLean, whose mother owned the fabulous 45.5-carat Hope Diamond; that marriage eventually ended, too, and Jock subsequently became Betty Boop's third husband.
"They married and intermarried so fast those days that I can hardly remember the sequence," says Eileen.
Eleanor was soon with child after she and Bunty eloped in April 1939, but the pregnancy was difficult and Eleanor's health suffered. She was supposed to be the maid of honor at Aeriel Frazer's wedding in Newport that July, but she was too ill; not knowing the underlying cause of her sickness, the society-page writers depicted her absence from the wedding of the year as a mysterious twist in an otherwise enchanting fairy tale.
"And then the story picks up dismally in the hospital in New York," says Eileen. "My friend Hildie van Royen was having a baby in one room and in the next room was Eleanor Young having a miscarriage.... And Mrs. Young was out in the hall and she was just so unhappy about her daughter."
Losing their grandchild was the last straw for Robert and Anita Young: Bunty was sent packing, and Eleanor was discharged from the hospital to the protection of her parents in Manhattan, where Eleanor and Eileen had both grown up.
"One whole summer she convalesced in the front drawing room with her mother playing backgammon she was white as a ghost," Eileen remembers. "The following winter, one day when I was having tea in New York with Eleanor . . . I said, 'Why did you marry him?' She shuffled out these photographs of Bunty skiing and so on and she said: 'I loved that man.'"
By late 1939, the most glamorous of the Glamour Girls felt well enough for a vacation in Sun Valley, Idaho, where, just before Christmas, she divorced Bunty and reclaimed her maiden name; Bunty meanwhile took up with another woman in Palm Beach and soon announced their engagement. Eleanor spent the winter at the Sun Valley Lodge skiing, shooting skeet, receiving massages, swimming, entertaining, and being entertained. Mostly she had a blast, as she informs her parents in her letters which I find at Yale University's archives in the dusty boxes that comprise the Robert Ralph Young papers.
But Eleanor had her down moments, including after a certain dinner party she hosted. "Everyone said they had fun, but I didn't really have a wonderful time," she wrote. "I seated the damn thing all wrong which made me furious and I have been in a bad humor ever since."
And for the moment, at least, Cupid had fled. "I have no interest in the men I see around," Eleanor wrote to her parents. "There is absolutely no one who appeals at all, so you poor dears will have me on your hands indefinitely, I am afraid."
Eleanor spent the summer of 1940 in Newport, returning to Sun Valley for that next winter, when the world slid toward war.
Romance continued to elude Cookie, as friends called her, and she welcomed the offer of a male acquaintance who claimed to be skilled in matchmaking. "He says that I am so attractive that I can get anyone I want," Eleanor wrote the morning of March 3, 1941. "He got me just at the right moment when I was getting ready to settle for almost anything. Now I am again holding out for something sensational."
That very evening, a young man named Nicky Embiricos arrived at Sun Valley Lodge. "He is very nice and amusing," Eleanor wrote. "He was gambling last night, and when I went up to the table he asked me what number I wanted to play. I said '31' and up it came. Not bad."
Feeling luck was with her this time, Eleanor fell for Nicky, son of a Greek shipping family who was separated from his wife and young child. Handsome and rich, Nicky owned a spiffy three-seat monoplane that became the talk of the town when he showed up in Newport with his beautiful new sweetheart in the spring of 1941. Nicky was clearly the adventurous type, but he'd logged precious few hours in the air.
A photograph of Eleanor Young walking into Bailey's appeared in the society pages of The Providence Sunday Journal of June 29, 1941, and an article trumpeted Newport's plans for the Fourth of July: "Following a series of dinners and lunches, the day will be rounded out with another dance, a subscription affair to be given in the ballroom at Bailey's Beach for which a New York orchestra is being brought to furnish the music." The orchestra was the same that played Hungarian Gypsy music at Eleanor's $75,000 debut.
War consumed the front page of The Providence Journal two days later, on the morning of July 1. Nazi tanks were advancing toward Moscow, and America was considering sending U.S. ships to aid the British in the battle of the North Atlantic. Soon, America would be engulfed in global conflict.
History does not record whether Eleanor read these headlines, or cared; she was crazy for her new beau Nicky Embiricos and believed they were destined to marry, just as soon as his divorce from the wife he'd left with his young child in Palm Beach was final. On the morning of July 1, Eleanor left her parents' summer estate and drove with Nicky, a weekend houseguest, to the Newport airport. Nicky kept his Fairchild Model 24 monoplane there.
I have seen this plane a photograph of it with Nicky, Eleanor and her beloved Yorkshire terrier posed in front is preserved in the Robert R. Young papers at the Yale University archives. Sharp-nosed and sleek, with a dark fuselage and light-colored wings, the plane sold for more than $6,000 new, a sum no ordinary person could have afforded.
I have found additional photos of Eleanor in those dusty boxes at Yale, too glossy 8-by-10 shots that surpass any newspaper microfilm. With her long black hair, dark eyes, and creamy skin, Cookie was stunning truly the most alluring Glamour Girl of all. Except for the color of her hair, she brings to mind the early Marilyn Monroe.
Heavy fog rolled in off the ocean that long-ago morning for the second day in a row.
Eleanor and her beau intended to visit friends in New York, and unlike yesterday, when they'd canceled their flight due to the weather, today they would not be deterred. With Nicky at the controls, they lifted off shortly before noon. A new pilot, Nicky had just 136 hours in the air, and his plane was equipped with only basic instrumentation.
Jane Ridgway was at Bailey's Beach when she heard the engine.
"The plane came over," she says, "and we were sitting in the cabana and it dipped its wings we gathered it must be Eleanor. He dipped his wings and off he went into the horizon."
Moments later, when the ceiling had dropped to 100 feet or less, Nicky became disoriented. They were off Matunuck now, and people on the beach below heard but could not see the plane madly circling.
Suddenly, the Fairchild burst through the fog.
It plummeted, zoomed back up, flipped, then hurtled down again, hitting the ocean with enough force to knock both wings off.
Eleanor and her dog were thrown from the plane. Lifeguards pulled Nicky from the wreckage; they detected a faint pulse, but he died there on the beach. Unconscious but breathing, Eleanor died an hour later at South County Hospital of a fractured skull, broken bones, and multiple internal injuries. The body of her dog was later found washed up on shore.
It was July 1, 1941, three days before the official start of the summer season.
Not long after, on the very last day of summer, a damp and dreary day that pulls the first leaves from the trees, I drive from Newport to Portsmouth. I turn off at St. Mary's Episcopal Church.
Eleanor Young's funeral was here, almost 60 years ago, and she is buried in the graveyard beyond.
It was the afternoon of July 3, 1941. Packards and Dusenbergs with chauffeurs discharged their grieving passengers, and then the hearse carrying Cookie's poor broken body arrived. Fourth of July festivities at Bailey's had been canceled by vote of the governors, and Newport society, Eleanor's fellow Glamour Girls included, filled every pew.
The organist played "Ave Maria" and the priest greeted the polished mahogany coffin with words from The Book of Common Prayer: "I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. . . ."
From the church, I walk to the Young family plot, in a secluded corner of this quiet tree-filled graveyard. Robert R. Young is buried here: never fully recovered from the death of his only child, Young, prone to depression all his life, sat down in the billiards room of his vast Palm Beach estate on the morning of Jan. 25, 1958, put the tip of a double-barrel shotgun in his mouth, and pulled both triggers. His widow, Eleanor's mother, Anita Young, joins him here: she died, alone, of natural causes in 1985 at the age of 93, leaving an estate that included her $25-million, 35,000-square-foot Palm Beach residence.
And of course, Eleanor, the first to die, lies here with her parents in an underground reinforced-concrete crypt that Robert bought to shield his daughter from the elements. An enormous white stone guards the entrance to the crypt, and the names of the three Youngs are engraved on its border. To further protect Eleanor, Robert bought the land surrounding the graveyard, deeding it to St. Mary's with the stipulation it never be developed.
Lost in thought, I stand by the grave. Wind rustles the leaves and a boy who never knew these people existed skateboards by. I contemplate Eleanor Young's life, which passed quickly, leaving nothing more substantial than memories; I think of a Newport summer, so strikingly similar.
I reflect on my journey through Newport society, of how I sought to discern its soul.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them." For most, it creates a comfortable illusion: a world where surfaces predominate, and money buys almost everything.
I run my fingers along Eleanor's cold tombstone. Leaving, I am grateful for the warmth of my old car and my return to an imperfect world.